Tag Archives: indigo

Nishijin Textile Centre and Aizenkobo Indigo Studio

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The Lonely Planet Guide did not make the Nishijin Textile Centre sound especially alluring, and nor did some of the promotional materials.  I decided to go anyway.

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There were some amazing fabrics and garments on display. The display itself was relatively small, though lovely–but the Centre was very popular–and clearly not because of the single room of displays upstairs which I had all to myself.  The main attraction seemed to be the souvenir shop, which was full of tourists from all round the world the day I was there. It had a wide range of items made with and decorated in beautiful Japanese fabrics.  There was also a working Jacquard loom, with a weaver demonstrating its operation on the main floor of the building, and with some explanatory signage about the long history of interaction between China and Japan in the matter of weaving.

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I took just two photos inside the building before seeing the signs banning photography and desisting.

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After the Nishijin Textile Centre I went to the Archaeological Museum, just a short walk away.  It was a small but impressive place, apparently run by a small group of enthusiasts.  Signs were mostly translated into English, which was a boon to me, so I spent a long time reading all I could.  I had already been to Nijojo Mae Castle at this point, and so had questions I was trying to answer.  The translations here were informative about the archaeology of Kyoto, but they did also suggest some of the ways Japanese and English differ.  I puzzled for quite a while over a ceramic object labelled as a “pillow”, wondering how something so small could be a pillow for anyone.  Eventually I realised this might be a literal translation of what in English would be a stopper or a lid for a jar or jug.

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Next I went to the Aizenkobo Indigo Studio, where master indigo dyer Kenichi Utsuki lives and works. It turned out that I had arrived at a time when he was not dyeing.  Rather, I arrived and was the only customer in the studio. Kenichi Utsuki showed me hos beautiful dyeing and the studio, complete with high end fashion garments and special orders hanging on racks. Friends, I was overcome with shyness at having the master dyer (and his wife) attending only to me, and deeply awkward about my lack of Japanese.  I tried to explain that I understood that he was an internationally famous dyer and that his work was complex, built on an extensive Japanese tradition (using only Japanese indigo and fermentation methods)–I am not sure that I succeeded in communicating this.  But I did spend quite some time with Kenichi Utsuki listening to him about his lifetime’s work and leafing though his photo albums, looking around in awe.  Even the house itself was rather amazing and had been in his family for generations. I could not bring myself to ask if I could take photos and so I have only the front door to show you and you will have to follow the link to see more.  I came home with a beautiful furoshiki and some sashiko thread dyed virtually black-blue.

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Afterward I walked for a long distance.  In Kyoto I was forever thinking that I wouldn’t walk as far as yesterday and would just catch a bus because of the heat.  but then I was constantly overcome by wanting to see something lying ahead, or wondering what was around the corner.  I was forever passing beautiful plants and unfamiliar styles of building. So I just had to keep walking and looking!

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Komebukuro Rice-Bags

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I am still in love with this traditional Japanese style of bag.  Having acquired Japanese fabric scraps in Japan, I made some more, combining recycled clothing (a red linen shirt from the op shop and a maroon sleeveless linen shirt worn very much by me since the 1990s became linings) with fabric I have dyed with indigo as well as all kinds of Japanese fabric scraps.

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I find this design very cunning, and in Japan, I was struck by the different styles that casings tended to take, with drawstrings travelling through casings that were quite separate from the main bag.  In the drawstring constructions I more often have encountered and created, the drawstring passes through a casing in the garment or bag itself.

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And there it is again.  I constantly find myself creating series, and I constantly find myself much more readily making scraps, remnants and recycled fabrics into projects rather than using untouched loveliness in my possession, as if it is too special and valuable to cut, even when it is a gift!  I’ll have to work on that, because of course I want people to use the things I gift them!

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Fabrics in Kyoto

I think regular readers will have worked out that there were some obvious reasons I saw textiles everywhere in Japan–after all, I was seeking them out! I must admit though–and I’ve already explained that my ignorance and lack of language are a limitation–that fabric in Kyoto seemed far more accessible than at home. I was really impressed by the range of scrap fabric and recycled fabric available, and the range of places it was for sale. My friend and I bought scrap packs at a high end Shibori store.  There were packs of scrap fabrics available on street stalls during the evening street parties that came with the Gion festival.  Kimono is a big business in Kyoto and no doubt especially during the Gion festival, when people clearly go out of their way to dress up and dress traditionally, and tourists often do so as well.

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This may be one reason that secondhand kimono are for sale in so many places. The amount of silk made into clothing in Japan (relative to Australia) might also account for the availability of bolt ends of kimono silk and for some of the scraps which seem to have been torn off when a hem was raised, for example. But to my ignorant eyes it also seemed there was a different kind of reverence for beautiful fabric and design. During the Gion festival when community treasures are on display, fabulous garments were among them.

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When the Gion floats were paraded through the streets, they were hung with amazing, and in some cases, ancient, tapestries and carpets, often imported (long ago and from far away).

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Here is another example.

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And another!  It was amazing! I had been watching some of the floats being assembled out on the streets (remember the temperature is 39C or above every day at this stage), visited them on display once complete and seen the Gion Bayashi musicians rehearsing in them. Then we saw them lifted, pulled or wheeled through the streets on one of the two parade days. To see them all was extraordinary–each with a complex history and a heavy freight of symbols.  How hard it must have been to be pulling them through the streets–some of them weighing tonnes and with antique wooden wheels, being kept on track by a wooden chock dextrously applied as the wheels turned, and cornering without steering by use of wet bamboo slats and brute strength.  Sweaty work even for the very committed.

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But wait, there’s more.  I’d researched some things prior to departure and understood Nomura Tailor was not to be missed. The main store was on the big shopping strip of Kyoto (the Rundle Mall of Kyoto for local-to-me readers). It looks small here but there were four, or perhaps five, floors!

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I was entirely unsure whether it was acceptable to take photographs, and found myself in someone’s way no matter where I stood on any floor with a small reprieve on the top floor where haberdashery was for sale. I was utterly embarrassed!

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Here was for sale every kind of cloth. Every colour of linen.  Lots of cute prints (I now understand a little more about the cute aesthetic in Japan, but not a whole lot)! In the image above you can see an entire display of Marimekko. I have never seen so many Liberty prints outside a Liberty store. And so on (remember, this is only what I could recognise). It was overwhelming. I try not to buy new stuff as a general rule–but I really wanted to buy here and could find no way to make a decision about where I would stop if I started. I came back on a second day to see if I had more judgment or perhaps it was less crowded.  I still could not bring myself to buy fabric, overwhelmed by how I would ask for it, not understanding how to initiate a purchase, not wanting to hold up the queue, and in general feeling all heffalump in a very organised and efficient space in which I was unable to grasp the key organisational and efficiency principles. I bought some braid, some Japanese zippers and some sashiko sampler packs. The difference between buying fixed items and negotiating yardage is profound, or at least it felt that way to me on the day!

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The sashiko samplers turned out to be cushion covers but only the shape of the fabric and the pictures with the Japanese instructions inside allowed me to work this out.  I became ill a week or so after returning and did a lot of stitching!

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None of these was the highlight for me. The highlight really was going to a shrine sale the day we left.  We went to the flea market, and it was immense.  It was not a fabric sale–pottery, tools, metal, ready to eat food, brushware, vegetables, pickles… just abut everything!  It was over 40C that day and I inhabited a fantasy that I could look around and come back to things sighted earlier.  Oops! That is one thing I do regret.  Here was every kind of fabric, new and second hand. New garments and second hand garments. Second hand sake bags.

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Sacking, advertising materials on fabric (as far as I could tell). Cheap mass produced stuff. I bought what turned out to be strips from the ends of bolts (lengths?) of white silk kimono fabric. Then there were so many second hand fabrics whose origins I could only guess.

There were plant dyed clothes, and while indigo was prominent some were dyed with nettles, cedar bark or wormwood (that is what I could understand at any rate–)

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There was vintage clothing and fabric in every stage from well preserved to utterly disintegrating and in every stage of being mended from a patch here or there to rags stitched together–the boro tradition.  There were also many stallholders converting scraps of beautiful silk or vintage indigo dyed fabric into small items of loveliness, honouring them by transforming them.

I have read about boro and seen images, and read its history.  But while some of these items spoke of thrift and long wear, some were so ragged and so much mended that I was confronted by a sense of grief and awe for the people whose suffering and resilience created these clothes and cloths. While they now sell for a good deal of money (which does not go to anyone who used them), these items speak of the sheer poverty and difficult lives as well as speaking of the diligence, skill, love and care that must have gone into them.

In the end, I felt as though the flea market was an education in the life of everyday people through textiles. The museums I visited focused on things of high quality and amazing craft and design skill (as museums often do). Yet, this means museums often tell the stories of the wealthy and powerful, even when it is their clothing that is on show. At the flea market, the incredible effort that went into staying warm and covered for so many people who made that wealth possible was on show instead.

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Tuffsock Knitting: Indigo dyed Suffolk

This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

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You may remember this yarn.  The fibre is Suffolk, one of the traditional sock knitting Downs breeds, in this case from Kangaroo Island, off the coast of  South Australia. I dyed it in a fructose based indigo vat as flicked locks, then carded and spun it three ply with a tight twist.  

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I am not sure that this yarn will work for everyone.  It is not silky soft, and the factors that make wool comfortable for one person and prickly to the next person are very individual. On the other hand it is robust, springy and feels resilient–I love that kind of springiness in  a sock personally.  So I had a conversation with a couple of friends about this issue and settled on one who was delighted at the prospect when she had the chance to hold it in her hands.  It was midwinter here so she received these socks gleefully!

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I have had trouble capturing the blue in photos.  It’s truest in the top picture of the wound ball.  I think these will be very robust and very warm socks and I’ll have to wait to see how the reviews from the recipient pan out!

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Komebukuro bags

It all began with a visit with friends, who took us for a trip through part of Tasmania, months ago.  We went to a country market and right beside it was Wafu Works. What a place!  Full of all kinds of Japanese paper, textiles and tools. I ended up with some thread an sashiko needles, and bought a kit to make a rice bag with some gift money… Indigo dyed fabrics on the outside, a red lining and a drawstring cord.

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I was so intrigued.  I learned a new stitch and a cunning construction. I loved the vintage fabrics.  You know what happened next, right?  I paired the leftover fabric with some of my own indigo dyeing, and cut up a mauve linen shirt I remember buying about 16 years ago for the lining, and pieced the scraps together…

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In the end I made three, and I’m now itching to make more…

 

 

 

 

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Indigo dyed sock spinning

Friends, I have not been keeping up with my blogging. I apologise. Life in my day job has been challenging this last year, but change is coming and perhaps we will see more of each other in the not-too-distant. This not keeping up means I have crafting projects that happened some time ago that you have never seen.  Here is one of those projects.

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This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

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I am still working with Suffolk fleece, and I have been really keen to dye some with indigo.  I finally gathered up my nerve and tried refreshing my indigo vat over a long weekend.  And, success!!! In order to conserve dye and because the Suffolk is robust, full of vegetable matter, dirty even after washing, and hard to felt, I decided to flick card the locks prior to dyeing. That is what you can see in the top image. When I was able to achieve that deep blue in the picture above (the photo colour is not perfect–but this is NOT pastel blue), I felt no regrets.

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Then, to the drum carder.  No felting at all despite the challenging-to-wool alkaline environment of the vat followed by a lot of rinsing. Now the image below shows the colour most accurately. Colour me extremely happy about this yarn.

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My previous sock spinning efforts had persuaded me that I was not getting enough ply twist to create a robust sock yarn.  When I bought my spinning wheel, I decided to invest in a high speed head as well as two interchangeable whorls.  I was experiencing confidence that I would be spinning well into my future and want to use the wheel to its maximum capacity.  Since then, the place I bought that wheel, then the only spinning wheel seller in the city outside my Guild (which sells second hand) has closed. I’ve used everything that came with the wheel with only one exception, so that was a good call. Now to use the last accessory: the high speed head that would make it easier to get serious amounts of twist into my yarn even on evenings of weary spinning and distracted plying.

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Well, here is that yarn all wound up and ready to knit, waiting its turn in the knitting queue!  Just between me and you… as I write it has made it onto the needles and I’ve had the all-important conversation with a recipient who feels no reservation about this not-Merino-soft, local, plant dyed, single breed yarn.  Over a hot chocolate and chat tonight she took one look, squeezed the sock-in-progress and said YES!

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Dyeing weekend at home

Over a recent long weekend, I managed to do quite a lot of dyeing and some fibre processing. There was mordanting of cellulose fabrics with soybeans.

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I finally decided to stop worrying about the fact that my walnuts (gathered from under trees at my workplace) were whole and having dried, I was not going to be able to separate husk from nut (where no rat had done this for me).  I just soaked them whole and then dyed with them.

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I clamped and dyed.  This eucalyptus print + walnut bath made me happy!  Here it is still wet (you can see it still clamped above if you look closely).

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I flick carded Suffolk locks.  Some had staining–see that yellow streak?  I just decided I wasn’t prepared to waste indigo on vegetable matter and contaminate my vat.  And the Suffolk is so felting resistant I thought it would be fine flicked first and dyed after 9and it was).

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I used some of Tarla Elward’s wonderful Australian grown Indigo for the first time and used henna as the source of antioxidants, following Michel Garcia’s method.

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I’d been concerned about how to grind up the block indigo but I had found a mortar and pestle since dye camp and put it to use. So much fun, Such a great weekend.

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I am just delighted with the indigo colours on this wool, and even more delighted that I managed to revive my indigo vat, last used before dye camp a few months ago.  Clearly, I learned something from the wonderful Jenai at dye camp.  Indigo achievement unlocked!  Blue socks one step closer.

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Summer Dye Camp at Beautiful Silks

It seems so long since I went to Beautiful Silks in Allansford for Summer Dye Camp and yet–no post.  The tutor once again was Jenai Hooke, full of expertise and inspiration, and dye camp was wonderful!

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We dyed with fresh woad from the garden and ice.

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My fellow dyers did all kinds of amazing things with indigo and leaves. The crowd at Beautiful Silks never fails to be full of inspiring and interesting humans.

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Critters dropped in!

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This is a strategy for dyeing yarn that would never have occurred to me.  Stunning in the skein (and all multi coloured skeins have their challenges).

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I dyed with indigo and with eucalypts.

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I learned a new-to-me and very effective way of mordanting with soy, and was re-educated about the importance of scouring.

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I made indigo circles for later use, inspired by Jude Hill’s indigo moons on Spirit Cloth.

There was so much more!  Madder, cochineal, walnut, tannins, mud, indigo painting… what a fabulous way to spend a holiday, plus the glorious time spent in Warrnambool and surrounds.  Highly recommended.

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Indigo and woad

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Over summer I worked on my indigo dyeing skills.  In case it isn’t obvious–there will be some time travelling blog posts, because there is a lot I did over December and January that we haven’t discussed, my friends.  Here is my Indigo fructose vat on day 1. The indigo vat went quite well but I felt I still didn’t manage to extract all the blue from it.  Most weekends I dream of cranking it back up, and fail to manage the time.

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This is my latest attempt at a fermentation woad vat.  It does look promising!  I used all of this summer’s  woad harvest (admittedly it was small this year) and one of the hottest weeks of summer and still failed to get the vat to reduce.  I do think constant heat is the thing I really need to sort out for this method–but Jenai Hooke gave me a gift indigo ball at summer dye camp which might kick start the process when I am ready to try again!

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I dyed washed fleece and some fabric, but the main project for the indigo vat was to dye some knitting a dear friend had done.  She describes herself as having a midlife crisis which she is managing, in part, by knitting a lot, I mean A LOT of beanies.  In the last six or twelve months she has scaled up to knitting gauntlets (arm warmers) and sharing the love of those.  She gave me natural white knits and asked if I would indigo dye them and at last I’ve done it.  They are, she said, knit from wool from sheep who grazed in the fields of France where many fascists died.  I think these are for herself.  Since I put them in the mail, I have received a great photo of her wearing them, grinning spectacularly and with a message saying she is taking them to Berlin.  Berlin!  The rest of my pile of beanies has headed out into the world too. Some to a climate activist I know who is studying in Canada and finding the snowy winter and the prospect of climate catastrophe very challenging (she can choose one and gift the others), and a big pile to my dear friends in Tasmania.  When I saw them recently, one of then was wearing a very stretched out eucalyptus dyed beanie that only I could have spun and knit, and clearly wears beanies all year round.  And, they know a lot of cash strapped people in Tassie who might feel the same need.  I figure they will know what to do with a pile of hand knit happiness.

 

 

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More spinning

 

…some more fat yarns spun from the fleece of a sheep called Lentil, which have now gone to their new home with a friend who likes to knit fat yarns. Plus some yarn that had been dyed in a very weak vat of indigo or woad at some time in the past, now a soft green with some help from soursobs (oxalis), a common weed here.

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